Wednesday 14 May 2014

The one thing The Guardian is right about

I have made most of my living out of the food industry since 1978, and it has required an epic amount of ducking and weaving over the years to avoid inspecting the killing end of an abattoir.

Because I enjoy eating meat, and suspect that I might never do so again if my theoretical knowledge of how it arrives on my plate was reinforced by a practical demonstration.

Pie factories, on the other hand, of which I have seen many, are counter-intuitively cheering: not only for their high standards of cleanliness but also for the complete absence of the nasty ingredients that urban legend would have you believe meat pies contain.

My least pleasant food industry experience to date was being taken on a tour of a battery chicken farm by its proud owners, who were about to float their company on the stock market. As a result I have religiously insisted upon free range eggs ever since.

However, it has been real religion that has dominated the headlines lately, as the old debate about the labelling of halal meat has received another airing in the tabloids.

An earlier outing of this story from 2010

This is presented by some as an animal welfare issue, but it really is not. Any unlabelled “halal” meat that makes its way into British supermarkets comes from animals that have been stunned before slaughter, in accordance with their standard requirements.

So there is no practical difference between benighted, wicked, ritual slaughter and the modern, friendly, secular kind. In both the animal ends up dead by having its throat cut. If you don’t find that concept palatable, don’t eat meat.

Those kicking up a fuss about halal are really concerned only with the fact that the unfortunate animals may have received some sort of Islamic blessing before meeting their destiny as little Wayne’s chicken nuggets.

With the best will in the world, I cannot imagine that hearing a few words of prayer, whatever their nature, can add greatly to any creature’s misery. They are at least more sensitive than a Tannoy blaring “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye”.

It pains me more than I can say ever to find myself in agreement with The Guardian about anything, particularly after their hugely distorted monstering of the North East at the weekend, but on this one issue they are surely right. The halal furore has nothing to do with love of animals and everything to do with dislike of certain people.

Yes, exactly like Detroit. Hard to tell them apart.

Specifically, it reflects resentment that we are all being forced to conform to the beliefs and wishes of a small section of the population, about whose feelings we seem disproportionately concerned.

This produces the same sort of irritation we experience when told that we must not celebrate Christmas or have black sheep in our traditional nursery rhymes, for fear of offending one minority or another.

Even though most members of said minority probably have not the slightest wish for us to change anything at all. My wife comes from a Muslim family who always celebrate Christmas far more enthusiastically than I have ever done. While the nearest we came to a religious difference this Sunday was bickering over our shares of the crackling after I cooked roast pork for lunch.

My elder son, who is soon to be five, loves animals and wants to be a farmer. Like so many of his peers, he would unhesitatingly name sausages as his favourite food. Yet he is so soft-hearted that he rushes for the “off” switch whenever it looks as though the fox in the CBeebies cartoon may finally catch Peter Rabbit.

The other day he was invited to visit a friend’s farm and asked if there would be dairy cows, his particular favourite. No, we said, only beef cows.

“Oh good,” came the innocent reply. “Maybe they can show us how the cows make the beef.”

I sincerely hope not. Perhaps he will become a vegetarian when he is finally faced with the truth. More likely, I suspect, he will follow the family tradition of ducking and weaving so that he can keep enjoying the things we both find delicious without facing up to the grim reality of how they are produced.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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